Acquired dental disease is an important problem in pet rabbits and rodents. Clinical management of dental disease is complex, frequently involving invasive technical procedures, therefore it is preferable to promote dental health, rather than treating dental disease.
Rodents are a large diverse group with over 2,000 living species ranging from the 5-gram pygmy mouse (Petromyscus collinus) to the 70-kg capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris). Order Rodentia includes several suborders including, but not limited to, Hystricomorpha, Myomorpha and Sciuromorpha (Table 1).
Table 1. Rodent dentition
|Hystricomorpha||Guinea pigs, chinchillas, degus, porcupines, capybaras and relatives||Elodont incisors +
elodont cheek teeth
|Myomorpha||Mice, rats, gerbils and relatives||Elodont incisors +
anelodont cheek teeth
|Sciuromorpha||Prairie dogs, squirrels and relatives||Elodont incisors +
anelodont cheek teeth
Not all rodent teeth are the same. Depending on the species involved, incisors and/or premolars and molars may be elodont or open-rooted. Elodont dentition continues to erupt throughout the life of the animal. Members of suborder Hystricomorpha such as guinea pigs (Cavia porcellus), chinchillas (Chinchilla lanigera) and degus (Octodon degus) possess elodont incisors and elodont cheek teeth (Fig 1). Rabbits possess dentition that is similar to hystricomorph rodents. In fact, rabbit teeth have been reported to grow at approximately 10-12 cm per year. This continual growth of dentition puts hystricomorph rodents and rabbits at increased risk for acquired dental disease (Fig 1).
Rats, mice, gerbils, hamsters, squirrels and their relatives possess elodont incisors paired with anelodont premolars or molars (or cheek teeth). Anelodont teeth grow for a brief period, but then stop erupting. Therefore malocclusion and acquired dental disease of cheek teeth is uncommon in myomorph and sciuromorph species.
Five things you can do…
Five things you can do to promote dental health in small herbivores
Recommend Gnawing Toys
Offer rabbits and rodents chew toys such as pesticide-free wood like willow and cardboard. Items to chew on are a behavioral necessity for rabbits and rodents, but they will also minimize or prevent cage bar chewing. The repeated trauma that can arise from vigorous cage bar chewing can promote acquired dental disease, particularly in prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.) and other squirrel-like rodents.
Use the Proper Equipment
Oral examination is challenging in rabbits and rodents, particularly in the conscious animal. Otoscopes are frequently used in awake animals, however the bivalve nasal speculum can also be used CAREFULLY with PRACTICE.
Perform Detailed Oral Exams
To perform a complete, detailed oral examination, rabbits and rodents must be sedated or anesthetized. By the same token, whenever a rabbit or rodent must be anesthetized or sedated, perform a more detailed oral exam as long as clinical status allows.
Warn Potential Owners of Breed Predispositions
Although it is rare for owners to consult with a veterinarian BEFORE they select an exotic pet, some rabbit breeds are associated with specific health concerns. Purebred dwarf rabbits and lop rabbits are prone to congenital prognathism of the mandible or brachygnathism of the maxilla. These conditions can predispose individuals to clinical dental disease.
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Quesenberry KE, Carpenter JW (eds). Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents: Clinical Medicine and Surgery, 3rd ed. St. Louis: Elsevier Saunders; 2012.
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Rodentia. Animal Diversity Web. Available at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Rodentia.html. Accessed on February 15, 2012.
Pollock C. Promoting dental health in small herbivores: Five things you can do. February 12, 2012. LafeberVet Web site. Available at https://lafeber.com/vet/promoting-dental-health-in-small-herbivores-five-things-you-can-do/